Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beneath The Mountains - VI

[Sanu Lama, a versatile writer in Nepali and the Sahitya Academy Award winner (1995), expounds what the ‘development’ means in the actual sense in a story from Himalchuli Mantira (1998). Permission granted to the translator by the author for the present translation].

I was always prompt to visit Premlakha village. I often prepared schedule to be there for tasks, which could have been satisfactorily discharged by my subordinates. The reason behind it was Premlakha’s scenic beauty and its pleasant village. Above all these, the most outstanding cause was Premlakha’s Devi dhara. It was in a partly shaded tract in the middle of the village where cool, pure, and serene perennial water flows. The banana clump, lushing titepati thicket and other vegetation were all around the spring source. After long journey water seems to spout out fumblingly through two boulders from the womb of the earth. After flowing some distance through a bamboo channel, it cascades on the breast of the earth. The stream of water falls on the water-filled flume from where a perceptual melody emanates. Someone in the remote past had put up a stonewall to protect the source from natural calamities. It was covered by weeds, and could only be seen when its layers uprooted. A big slab was there on one side of the spring, meant for washing clothes. On the other, there was a stone parapet meant to keep filled up vessels, whenever to carry on the back with namlo. It was as well a halting place for weary ones and especially for water carriers to gossip.

After uphill walk to Premalakha, first I used to go to Devi dhara. I used to sip a double-handful of spring water till my inner thirst get quenched, and used to sit on that parapet. I often heard the bubbling of water from the source, murmuring sound while passing through, and at last the cascading music while falling down as a stream. I relax, and lost in sheer joy.

The magical attraction of Devi dhara was not only to me but for others also. In the pretext of washing his hands and feet, Daulat Rai spends hours in this spring to cool down his anger whenever he quarrelled with his wife. Jitman comes worrying about his inability to pay Ghalay mahajan’s debt for this time too even after selling his ginger. He uproots the weeds grown on the parapet and prunes the bowing stalk of titepati. On returning his face would be bright, he would solve his problem.

Jangabir Ghalay’s house was near Devi dhara. Sita, an elder daughter of the house, in particular used to fetch water. She comes out of the house with an urn. After walking three hundred steps through the edges of the mustard field, turning right to a big banyan tree, she descends down keeping left to the three mustard sown terraces. A little away, she crosses the fence and again walks fifty steps of slanting path and reaches that quiet place. She washes her urn and lets it to fill up. Supporting her chin by both her palms she sits on the parapet watching the flow of spring on the urn. She is aware of the brimming water and spilling down in ripples. Only when other fellow carriers come chatting and laughing, she awakes as if from sleep. The felling of trees was strictly prohibited in the source and near by. It was a dwelling place of Nag, and would cause ailments if kept unclean and disturbed. The village folks were not able to think even to go inside and make the sanctuary dirty. One evening, a cow entered the source to eat the bowing banana leaves, Oly baajay hastened to send his grandson to drive away the cow. He did but from the same night he suffered from high fever. Nag was furious so the village sorcerer could do nothing. At last, the patient was taken to the health centre where injection and tablets for about two weeks cured him. This is a very old happening but even today every child and folk of Premlakha know the tale.

In the beginning, there were only eight or nine houses on the slopes of Premlakha, but now every year new more houses could be seen. The married sons disjointed from their family to start of their own. The fields divided, paths added, and the spring left far off. Devi dhara was no more convenient to all. For somebody it became far, for others, there arose a problem of carrying water uphill, and for some new houses new paths required to reach the spring. In the mean time, Sita was married. Her husband was from Barbotay, two hills behind to the southeast, where could be reached at late evening if one set out early in the morning. Ghalay mahajan had confidentially told me this earlier. I had received the invitation too and had determined to attend her wedding but being absorbed in the hustle-bustle of the official work I could not.

There was a discussion in the Gram Panchayat regarding the problem of drinking water. The several villagers urged to provide water from other source. This new issue of Premlakha was forwarded by the panchayat to the government.

After about a year, I had to go to Premlakha. I was trailing the path which I had travelled through many times. It was late September. The weather was equally cool and warm, sweet autumnal fragrance was in the air. A bright day, the blue sky the entire village was looking beautiful. A kind of intoxication has entered the atmosphere and has made the surrounding exhilarating. The aroma of newly upturned soil, meant for next cropping has mingled with air here and there. All other crops were harvested except paddy. After passing the straight way of Tara village, I started uphill walk. After ascending a kilometre, Premlakha village commences. Whenever I climb up the hill always the charm of Devi dhara helps me.

Rapt in the pleasant autumnal day I reached Devi dhara unaware. I was awakened by its cascading sound, which was always there in my ear. I went to the spring and drank cool, sweet water as usual with a double-hand till my inner thirst was quenched. After drinking water when I raised up my head I saw her gently smiling at me. She was beautiful; she was looking more beautiful after marriage. There was a bright vermilion the long parting of her thick dark hair. A single plait of long hair. At present, she was playing with the hair-end of the plait in her hands.

I sat on a tree stump in front of her.

“Sita, when did you come?” I asked.

“Yesterday evening”, she replied short and was quiet for some time, and said, “I came on receiving the message of father’s sickness.”

“Is it not a year that you got married? I had received the invitation but being busy in work I couldn’t attend.” And I said to Sita keeping my eye on the spring, “You can’t forget this spring, isn’t?”

“How can I, dear brother! Of what sort of pleasure it gives! What magic is therein this spring?…But, look here brother, weeds are growing all around the spring. It has been uncared. The village has made it an orphan.”

I looked at and was dumbfound to see its condition. I did not notice when I had water. The weeds are growing everywhere; only half of the bamboo channel is seen. Titepati and other plants have grown into a jungle. The channel is scummed. The green algae have mantled the washing slab. The parapet, where the village lasses would gossip while filling up their urn was difficult to make out in the weeds. The spring was piteous. Only the cascading water flowing through the channel and its sound was unchanged.

“I hold you responsible for its negligence,” at once Sita said. I looked at her with surprise. I was so astonished that I could not ask her what my fault was.

“I feel very pity for this spring,” she said. “Just, I was alone weeping here.” Her eyes looked moistened. “You supplied water through metal pipe to each and every house from that remote Kirnay vir. None comes here to fetch water. Since ages, this spring has saved the lives of this village; now look at its condition. How unkind the villagers are! In the name of development you shouldn’t have brought water from Kirnay…” After saying this much she sat leaning as if tiresome and stared at Devi dhara.

What is development? I questioned myself. Each and every house has water tap. The villagers want development and we provide them water at their courtyard. When they say it is difficult to walk, we construct roads and smaller bridges. We have kept them in a great illusion. We have urged them to accept some convenience as development. We only can feel proud of development if we can improve their socio-economic condition through raising their earnings. To protect the woods is a development. To look after this sort of spring, such a public property is a development. The development is a vow to do something. The satisfaction that one gets in doing some good to the self and others as well is a great development.

I decided in mind to rejuvenate this spring and to give back its previous form. I vowed to make this spring once again a centre of attraction. Let it attract all. Let Daulat Rai come. Let Jitman come.


1. Devi dhara: a name of a natural spring considered holy.
2. Titepati: Artemisia vulgaris, a medicinal plant.
3. Namlo: The rope or band made of jute passed through the forehead and supporting a load carried on the back.
4. Mahajan: a local term for shopkeeper/moneylender.
5. Nag: The holy serpent.
6. Baajay: a common term for grandfather.
7. Kirnay vir: a name of a cliff.

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